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Judge Halts $7-Million Delivery to Pizza Maker : Court: Jury’s award to owner of Domino’s outlet burned down in riots is termed excessive.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Domino’s Pizza man in Willowbrook has been told to forget about quick delivery of one order.

It’s the $7 million that a jury ordered an insurance company to pay pizzeria owner Dennis Stephan. It could be two years before the cash arrives--if it ever does.

A jury awarded the judgment six months ago after Stephan sued the Insurance Co. of North America and one of its agents for allegedly failing to reimburse him when his Domino’s outlet was burned down in the 1992 riots.

But the judge in the case has ruled that the verdict is excessive and has ordered a new trial unless Stephan is willing to accept a $100,000 settlement.

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Stephan isn’t.

Superior Court Judge F. Ray Bennett’s ruling will be appealed, said Steve Thomas, the West Los Angeles lawyer representing the pizza maker. The appeal process could take two years.

But even if a new trial does take place, “we think another 12 people on a new jury will do the same or better,” Thomas said.

During the 2 1/2-week trial in February, Stephan argued that the insurance company and its agent refused to cover his $225,000 loss after rioters destroyed his pizza store April 30, 1992.

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He asserted that differing policy numbers appearing on his insurance certificate and on a riot settlement offer of $20,000 proved that the agent and the company switched insurance policies on him after he filed his claim.

The Philadelphia-based insurance firm and the Gold Cities Insurance Agency of Grass Valley, Calif., denied wrongdoing. They asserted that Stephan dropped his coverage when he briefly shut down his pizza store in early 1992. They said that when he reopened shortly before the riots, he only authorized $20,000 worth of new coverage.

“Even if the order for a new trial is reversed, this is not over by a long shot,” David Gorney, a Los Angeles lawyer representing Gold Cities, said Thursday.

After February’s trial, the jury ordered the insurance agency to pay $249,000 of the judgment and the insurance company to pay the rest. The company’s lawyer, Stuart Brody was unavailable for comment.

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Stephan, 33, said he has continued operating two other Domino’s outlets in Carson while awaiting insurance money to reopen his Willowbrook store. But he said the continuing loss of one-third of his income has resulted in foreclosure on his home in Redondo Beach.

“Seven million was more than I ever thought about getting. It’s not what I asked for--it’s the number the jury came up with,” he said.

“I was victimized during the civil unrest, and now I’m victimized again.”


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